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It is the motive that matters ...

Entrance Antiphon: Ps 86(85):3, 5— “Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I cry to You all the day long. O Lord, You are good and forgiving, full of mercy to all who call to You.”

First Reading: Sir 3:17-18, 20, 28-29 — “Humble yourself and you will find favor with God.”

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 68:4-5, 6-7, 10-11 — “God, in Your goodness, You have made a home for the poor.”

Second Reading: Heb 12:18-19, 22-24a — “You have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God.”

Alleluia: Mt 11:29ab — Alleluia, alleluia. “Take My yoke upon you, says the Lord, and learn from Me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel: Lk 14:1, 7-14 — “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, everyone who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Communion Antiphon: Ps 31(31):20 — “How great is the goodness of the Lord, that You keep for those who fear You.”

It’s hard to believe that the summer is just about over. If I was still in the seminary, this weekend, I would be on retreat. We would have moved in this Wednesday past and the retreat would have begun on Friday night and last through Monday. I think it was my third year in the seminary, our retreat master told us this story. I believe he was a faculty member at The Prep ... and no it wasn’t Bishop Eustace or Saint Augustine. It was the one across the river. The story went like this: At the end of the school year, the administration of a Catholic boys’ college prep school asked the seniors to reply anonymously why they were going into their chosen professions. The administration was taken aback when the number one reason for the students’ choices was money. Even within a profession, some choices were financially driven. The administration was disappointed because they had hoped for more noble choices … choices that were more humble.

In the Gospel today, Jesus looks at motives more than at actions. In that light, He is challenging His host, the guests, and each one of us … to be more humble.

So, what was the host’s motive for inviting Jesus? The host was a leading Pharisee. Was he a disciple, or was he hoping to trap Jesus? Did he want to shame Jesus by ignoring Him, or did he want to honor Jesus by giving Him a select seat at table? I doubt the latter, because in the second verse (a verse not included in today’s Gospel reading) we read that there was a “man suffering from dropsy” in front of Jesus. The sick man was most likely a party crasher, because, once healed, Jesus dismissed him rather than inviting him to be seated again. That puts Jesus closer to the door rather than a place of honor. Regardless, Jesus is not controlled by the host’s motives. He takes center stage and speaks without mincing words.

So what was Jesus’ motive in accepting the invitation? He had a message to deliver: Be humble. Jesus was humble. He would have been just as comfortable with the seat next to the host or with the one closest to the door. Human opinion never determined His actions. His Father’s opinion was all that mattered. Humility does not put on airs or seek attention. It is prideful to take a seat of honor without being invited. Likewise, it is prideful to take a lower seat just so you will be paraded to a higher place by the host. It is the motive that matters.

A humble person does not expect rewards or paybacks, but graciously accepts them when given. It is wrong to invite folks just so you will look good or be repaid. (Jesus was not against entertaining relatives and friends. He dined with His friends.) Jesus would also be opposed to inviting the poor just to be praised for one’s compassion. It is the motive that matters.

Motives behind our actions are more important than actions. Here are some examples: Some enter the medical profession simply to get rich. Others hone their skills to heal the sick and to serve them. Some lawyers are concerned only with filling their pockets. Others want to seek justice for those unable to speak for themselves. Some enter politics to gain a sense of power and acclaim. Others seek office to serve. Closer to home are the students in our school and religious education programs. I would like to think the teachers of Saint Michael the Archangel Regional School, Mrs. Slusarz and the parents of our children work very hard to teach them about the importance of service to their families and to the parish and to the community. Service projects for the Confirmation candidates are developed each year. Each student must accumulate so many service hours. Some seek the easiest way to fulfill the obligation. Others want to develop a servant’s heart. They go above and beyond. In my previous assignments, we often had altar servers from the school who served at Funerals, Weddings or at the morning Mass held in the parish ... Was it simply a means to miss a class or two or does serving at the altar mean something more? In all these cases it is the motive that makes the difference.

Humility gives a true estimate of self. God wants us to use our gifts, even if they call attention to ourselves and draw the praise of others. Humility helps us to acknowledge our gifts and to know whom to thank. We can be humble in the spotlight, if that is God’s choice for us. But to squelch our gifts because we fear pride is not humility. That is denying the grace God gives us to use our gifts for His glory.

Humility calls us to bow to the will of God. Humility strips us of pride and demands that we are servants of a God that we trust fully, but don’t always understand. Humility invites us to be comfortable with and within ourselves.

A friend and classmate of mine in the seminary had a sister, Mary, who was in a terrible car accident. And as a result of the accident, Mary has brain damage. During spring break my Deacon year, I had the opportunity to meet her. She had almost died ... the fact that she is with us today, I was told, is simply a miracle. As I got to know her, I saw that she is a truly beautiful person ... even with her limitations. She has stretched her accomplishments beyond anyone’s expectations, but even so, she will never be able to live alone. She will never drive a car. She will never marry. The awesome thing I saw was that she is happy. She humbly accepts her limitations and she is comfortable in her own skin.

Humble people know their gifts and their limits, as Sirach tells us in the First Reading. A note in the New American Bible says: “Humility gives a true estimate of self. Through it a man performs duty, avoids what is beyond his understanding and strength.”Humility is an elusive gift. Just when we boast of having that virtue, we have, in fact, lost it to pride ... pride in our humility. Then it is humbling to realize how prideful we are.

The Eucharistic banquet we are about to share is a taste of the one to come. At the Heavenly banquet, all will be invited ... rich and poor alike. Every place will be a place of honor. If you really think about it ... if you think about everything that He went through for us ... we should all be humbled by the awesome graciousness and love of God for each one of us. It is sometimes hard to understand that most of the time, we can and do act otherwise.

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